The Council of Preuilly sur Claise has voted by a large majority to welcome a number of refugee families to the town. They will be housed in six social housing flats owned by Val Touraine Habitat which are currently empty. It is assumed the refugees will be Syrian, Iraqi or Eritrean. 11 councillors voted for, 3 against and one submitted a blank voting slip in the secret ballot on Thursday evening.
The block of flats the refugees will occupy is on the centre left.
The mayor, Gilles Bertucelli, said he had to argue the case, and agree to a secret ballot, but got there in the end. Forty local inhabitants attended the open Council meeting, an unusually high number, but the issue is important. Some spoke at the meeting, some were just there to listen. One person was openly racist, but it was quickly obvious that they were outnumbered. As Monsieur Bertucelli said, 'Winter is coming. How can we leave these people who are fleeing a war to sleep outside when we have empty housing?' He is convinced that the businesses of Preuilly can only benefit. After checking with the headmistress of the school he is also reassured that the children will be able to join classes without difficulty.
A view of Preuilly.
The flats, although modest looking on the exterior, are in good condition. There are two 5 room apartments and four 4 room apartments with garages. They have been empty for some months (more than a year for one of them). Monsieur Bertucelli says Val Touraine Habitat will be the landlord. The Council is going to use €1000 of State funds per family to help furnish the flats. An appeal has been launched amongst the local populace for furniture and crockery. Monsieur Bertucelli is going to donate the furniture from his parents' place (his parents are both dead now). The Red Cross will help too. He says that 'In this way, when they arrive, everything they need will be there'.
It's difficult to say when the first refugees will arrive. The State has to finalise the deal with Val Touraine Habitat. Monsieur Bertucelli concludes that the mix of cultures can only be a positive thing.
The state primary school in Preuilly.
He is not the only local mobilising to help. Sophie Beau, whose parents retired to Preuilly four years ago, is one of the founders of SOS Méditerranée, a partner to Medicins du Monde who are well known for working with the refugees living in the infamous 'Jungle' camp near Calais. Their objective is to buy and outfit a boat in order to save refugees in peril on the Mediterranean. In a single week they crowd funded €163 095. To donate click on this link.
Preuilly's main street (on Remembrance Day).
Sophie's parents Christiane and Bernard (who I recognise by sight, but don't know) have formed a committee to forge links between the residents of Preuilly and the refugees and help the refugees find their feet. Christiane herself, who grew up in Preuilly, is a retired French teacher who worked in a social centre in Paris in an area with a high immigrant population. She taught French to immigrants for 20 years, including volunteering after hours to teach women and children. She emphasises that it is necessary for them to learn the language in order to participate in daily life.